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FUOYE Journal of Engineering and Technology, Volume 1, Issue 1, September 2016 ISSN: 2579-0625 (Online), 2579-0617 (Paper)

A Review of the Major Problem Soils in Nigeria

*1Ademola Bolarinwa and 2Samuel A. Ola,
Department of Civil Engineering, Federal University Oye Ekiti, Nigeria
Department of Civil Engineering, Federal University of Technology, Akure, Nigeria

Abstract— This paper intends to produce a compendium of geotechnical properties of major problem soils of Nigeria which have
critical influence on the design, performance, lifespan, construction cost and maintenance of civil engineering structures. Apart from
the well researched lateritic soils of Nigeria, the black cotton soils (BCS) of north-eastern Nigeria, clay shale of north-western Nigeria,
organic clay prominent in Lagos and soft sedimentary deposits of the Niger-Delta areas of Nigeria are also considered. Significant
geotechnical properties of major problem soils in Nigeria were discovered to be scattered in different publications, magazines,
journals, conference proceedings, research papers etc. Consequently, it is the aim of this paper to collate, correlate, analyze and
digitize these important geotechnical properties on digital map of Nigeria. A Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping software
called ArcGIS will be used to generate isopleths in form of contours for these soil properties on map of Nigeria.

Keywords— Classification, Compaction, Strenght Characteristics, Major Problem Soil

——————————  ——————————


I n civil engineering, soils with properties that cannot be

safely and economically used for the construction of civil
engineering structures without adopting some stabiliza-
(Adesunloye, 1987; Eberemu and Sada, 2013; Ijimdiya et al,
2012; Lorliam et al, 2012a; Lorliam et al, 2012b; Madedor and
Lal, 1985; Ola, 1983c; Ogundalu and Oyekan, 2014; Oluyemi-
tion measures are known as problem soils. They are expan- Ayibiowu and Ola, 2015; Oyekan et al, 2013; etc). They are
sive and collapsible soils. To the geotechnical and highway dark coloured expansive clays rich in kaolinite and expan-
engineers, a problem soil is one that poses problem to con- sive montmorillonitic clay minerals (Ola, 1983c; Oluyemi-
struction. Such problems may be as a result of instability of Ayibiowu and Ola, 2015).
the soil which makes it unsuitable as a construction material
in foundations, buildings, highways, water retaining struc-
tures, dams, e.t.c., Ola (1987). Clay is predominant in most of
the subgrade soil materials of Nigeria. The clay minerals
attract and absorb water, thereby making it highly suscepti-
ble to swelling and shrinkage respectively.

The geologic formations considered to have expansive re-

sidual soils are shown in Fig. 1 below (Abdulfatai et al,
2014). In Nigeria, some of these soils have been identified.
They include the structurally unstable residual lateritic soils
Gidigasu (1976), the black cotton soils (BCS) which occur
widely in the north-eastern part of Nigeria and the Sokoto
soft clay shale (attapulgite) in the north-western Nigeria, Ola
(1987). Adesunloye (1987) identified the problem soils in the
Lagos area as peaty clays. In Port-Harcourt area, they occur
as clayey peat over the mud plains. Adesunloye (1987) also
noted that problem soils tend to fall above the Casagrande’s
plasticity Chart and this agrees with Chukweze (1991).

Swelling/Expansive soils are one of Nigeria’s prevalent

causes of damage to buildings and other construction works,
Lorliam et al (2012a and 2012b). Possible damages that can Fig. 1. Geological Map of Nigeria Showing the Major Lithological Units,
be caused by expansive soils includes; foundation cracks, Abdulfatai et al (2014)
severe structural damage, heaving and cracking of side- BCS are known to be notorious because of their very poor
walks, roads etc. Lateritic soils which occur extensively in performance as a road construction material. This is because
tropical climate like Nigeria is well researched, for instance: they appear firm in their dry state and subject to large
Adekoya (1987); Ajayi (1985a); Ajayi (1985b); Chukweze amount of swelling on wetting. Soft clay shale predominant-
(1991); Gidigasu (1976); Ola (1983a); Ola (1988), etc. Laterites ly Attapulgite is prominent in Sokoto State, Ola (1983b).
and lateritic soils of Nigeria originate from the intense They are believed to contain active clay minerals of the
weathering of crystalline rocks of the basement complex Montmorillonite or Illite type which are sensitive to changes
which underlain about 60% of the country (Ajayi, 1985b). in humidity (Adesunloye, 1985). Three problems have been
Black cotton soils (BCS) prominent in the northeastern Nige- identified where this material occurs: collapsing sand, sink-
ria is also well researched and investigated for example; hole and caverns in the limestone deposits and swelling of

* Corresponding Author

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FUOYE Journal of Engineering and Technology, Volume 1, Issue 1, September 2016 ISSN: 2579-0625 (Online), 2579-0617 (Paper)

the clay shales, Ola (1983b and 1987). Organic clays and 1987). The liquid limit (LL) ranges from 23% to 78%, plastic
peaty clays were identified as major problem soils in Lagos limit (PL) from 12% to 36% and plasticity index (PI) 6% to
by Adesunloye (1987); Ajayi (1985a). Craig (2006) classified 36%. The AASHTO classification is either A – 7 – 5 or A – 7 –
peat into three major categories thus: fibrous when plant 6 and in the Unified classification system, the soil falls into
remains are recognizable and retain some strength; pseudo- CL and CH groups, (Ola 1987). The Free Swell is between
fibrous when plant remains are recognizable but their 30% and 140%, Oluyemi-Ayibiowu and Ola (2015). The Free
strength has been lost and thirdly as amorphous if recog- Swell rises with clay fraction, plasticity index and liquid
nizable plant remains are completely absent. They are highly limit (Omange et al, 1988). The mineralogy of Sokoto soft
compressible soils with low strength and are common in the clay shale is made up mainly of attapulgite; about 98% of
Niger-Delta, coastal lagoons and channels of the Niger- samples passed No.200 BS sieve and the clay fraction is
Delta, and channels of the Niger and Benue rivers. These about 58% (Ola, 1983b and 1988).
soils are mainly mixtures of soft to very soft peat, organic
silts and clays. Test results for Bayelsa and Rivers States soils are summa-
rized as follows; Silts and Clay fraction varies from 5% to
Okunade (2010) in his research highlights the need to im- 97% with majority falling within the range of 23% to 73%, LL
plement a web base geotechnical database management sys- vary between 0 and 71 % with a mean value of 40%, PI (0-39)
tem for Nigerian soils. The problem soils reviewed above is % with a mean of 24%, Omange et al (1988). A plot of the
a major concern to engineers because of the instability they liquid limit against plasticity index confirms the fact that,
constitute to civil engineering structures imposed on them. soils in the same formation tend to lie parallel to the
The results of previous researches on geotechnical proper- Casagrande’s A-line. Delta and Edo states soils (i.e. former
ties of these soils are scattered in journal publications, con- Bendel State) has the following results; LL (0 – 89.4) % and
ference proceedings, unpublished archives from research PL (0 – 36.4) %, PI ranges between (0 and 53) % with a mean
institutes such as Nigeria Building and Road Research Insti- value of 17.92%, Omange and Aitsebaomo (1989). Cross Riv-
tute (NBRRI), etc. Therefore, it the aim of this paper to col- ers State soils has LL (44-79) %, PL (19-40) % and the materi-
late these geotechnical properties of major problem soils in als were classified as A-7 predominantly with a few A-2-7,
Nigeria and generate a compendium for them in form of Sadiku (1985).
contours on digitized map of Nigeria by using geographic
information system (GIS) software called ArcGIS. Properties of Lagos organic clays indicated, LL ranges from
75% to 250% for peaty clays, PL of 30% to 175% and PI of
20% to 120%, Farrington (1983). Organic content determina-
tion by dichromate oxidation method gives results ranging
The study area covers northeast, northwest, southwest and between 10 and 40%, specific gravity ‘G’ generally ranges
southern parts of Nigeria. Nigeria lies approximately be- between 2.20 and 2.68 and values as low as 1.85 has been
tween latitude 4ºN and 15ºN and longitudes 3ºE and 14ºE, obtained for highly compressed peaty clay, Ajayi (1983).
within the Pan African mobile belt in between the West Af- Abia and Imo states (i.e. former Imo State) have the follow-
rica and Congo cratons, Oyinloye (2011). The geology of ing properties; LL (20 – 70) %, PL (10 – 50) %, PI (5 – 55) %,
Nigeria is dominated by crystalline basement and sedimen- (Okunade 2007). Soils of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT)
tary rocks which occur in about equal proportions, has the following properties; Clay fraction ranges between
(Oyinloye, 2011; Rahaman and Malomo, 1983). The general 3% and 54%, Silts between 20% and 85%, while Sand frac-
geology of Nigeria has been well researched for instance; tion ranges between 35% and 95%, LL (19.5-80)%, PL (11-
Abdulfatai et al, 2014; Adesunloye, 1985; Adesuloye, 1987; 45)%, PI (6-47)%, activity ratio (0.56-3.68) and free swell (30-
Akpokodje, 1987; Omange et al, 1988; Oyinloye, 2011; 70)%, (Omange et al 1988). Isopleth of plasticity index sum-
Rahaman and Malomo, 1983; etc. The major material re- marized above is shown in Fig. 2.0, and free swell in Fig 3.0.
quired in this work are the scattered data earlier mentioned
above. 3.2 Compaction Characteristics
Maximum Dry Density (MDD) of black cotton soils varies
A sequence of method involved in this work includes; litera- from 1530kg/m3 to 2070kg/m3 with corresponding optimum
ture work on problem soils; data collation (geotechnical moisture contents (OMC) of 25% and 7% respectively, Omange
properties) of soils and interpolation of these data using the et al (1988); Madedor and Lal (1985); Ola (1987). Sokoto soft
ArcGIS software to generate isopleths in form of contours on clay shale (Attapulgite) is very light weight with maximum dry
digitized map of Nigeria for some engineering properties of density (standard proctor) of 1137kg/m3 and optimum mois-
soils. The only data that can be plotted on the digital map ture content (standard proctor) of 41%, Ola (1983b and 1988).
were the ones with coordinates for tested samples by past Delta and Edo State soil has MDD varying between 1.32g/cm3
investigators/researchers. and 2.29g/cm3 with a mean of 1.94g/cm3. The corresponding
moisture content ranges between 6.6% and 24.1% with a mean
3 RESULTS AND DISCUSSION of 12.7%, Omange and Aitsebaomo (1989). Bayelsa and Rivers
State soils has MDD ranging between 1430kg/m3 and
3.1 Classification Characteristics 2400kg/m3 with a mean of 1430kg/m3 and corresponding op-
The results for black cotton soils (BCS) indicate that, 92% of timum moisture contents of 14.0%, 8.2% and 22.8% respective-
the soil passed through No. 200 B.S. sieve and the clay frac- ly, Omange et al (1988). Cross-Rivers State soils have OMC
tion was 59%, (Ola 1988). The composition of the clay were; ranging between 10.6 to 46.6% and MDD’s were low with
Sand (0-39)%, Silt (0-47)% and Clay fraction (13-100)%, (Ola about 1.21mg/m3 mean value. The maximum free swell of the

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FUOYE Journal of Engineering and Technology, Volume 1, Issue 1, September 2016 ISSN: 2579-0625 (Online), 2579-0617 (Paper)

material after 48-hours soaking ranges from 0% to 4.3%, Sokoto clay shales have the following results; unconfined com-
Omange et al (1988). pressive strength of 100-124.1kN/m2, vane shear test gave 120-
130kN/m2 at OMC and 3.2kN/m² at liquid limit, effective an-
Abia and Imo States soils have MDD ranging between gle of shearing resistance at liquid limit were between 12° - 15°,
1700kg/m3 and 2100kg/m3 and their corresponding varying Ola (1987). Delta and Edo State soils were found to have aver-
OMC are 9% and 24% respectively, NBRRI (1988) and Okunade age 96-hour soaked CBR values ranging between 2.0% and
(2007). Lagos organic clay’s MDD vary between 800kg/m3 and 92.5% with a mean of 34.88%, Omange and Aitsebaomo (1989).
1600kg/m3 with a value as low as 400kg/m3 being obtained The results indicate that, all the ML and OL soils have very low
for the highly compressed peat type material, Ajayi (1983). Soils CBR values. Lagos peaty clays have shear strength ranging
of the F.C.T. have MDD ranging from (1.67 to 2.22) X 103 kg/m3 from 5kN/m2 to 12kN/m2, (Farrington 1983). Abia and Imo
and OMC ranges between 8.5 to 28.0%, Omange et al (1988). state soils have unsoaked CBR of (10-80) % and the 96 – hour
Summarily, values of MDD for covered area in Nigeria can be soaked CBR of (5-55) %, Okunade (2007). FCT soils have
assessed from isopleths shown in Fig. 4.0, so also is their corre- unsoaked CBR ranging from 9 to 70% and 4-days soaked CBR
sponding OMC in Fig. 5.0 ranges from 6 to 46%, Omange et al (1988). Data gathered here
were not adequate to produce isopleths of strength characteris-
3.3 Strength Characteristics tics when using the geographic information system (GIS) using
Generally, the CBR values are low for BCS. The 4-day soaked the ArcGIS software.
values range between 2% and 5% while the un-soaked CBR
values at OMC and MDD range between 8% and 13%, Omange
et al (1988); Madedor and Lal (1985).

Fig.2. Contours of Plasticity Index (%) of Nigerian Major Problem Soils.

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FUOYE Journal of Engineering and Technology, Volume 1, Issue 1, September 2016 ISSN: 2579-0625 (Online), 2579-0617 (Paper)

Fig. 3. Contours of free swells (%) of Nigerian major problem soils.

Fig. 4. Contours of maximum dry densities (x102 kg/m3) of Nigerian problem soils.

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FUOYE Journal of Engineering and Technology, Volume 1, Issue 1, September 2016 ISSN: 2579-0625 (Online), 2579-0617 (Paper)

Fig. 5. Contours of Optimum moisture contents (%) of Nigerian major problem soils.

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